Gov. John Hickenlooper released this statement today after signing HB13-1136, the Job Protection and Civil Rights Enforcement Act of 2013:
"As a former small business owner, I know full well that discrimination in the workplace is the rare exception and not the rule in Colorado.
"Small business cannot thrive with red tape, needless bureaucracy and frivolous or harassing litigation. These are among the concerns the business community has raised with HB13-1136, the Job Protection and Civil Rights Enforcement Act of 2013.
"While our administration is very sympathetic to these concerns, we also believe that HB13-1136 has been crafted with safeguards against frivolous lawsuits and excessive damage claims. Moreover, we believe HB13-1136 rightly embraces employment discrimination remedies for companies with fewer than 15 employees that are recognized in most other states.
"Colorado law already prohibits small business employers from engaging in unfair employment or discriminatory practices, but employees who are victimized by these practices can seek only job reinstatement and back pay for their claims.
"HB13-1136 expands available remedies for workers to recover compensatory and punitive damages from employers who have intentionally engaged in discriminatory practices. The damage awards are limited to to $10,000 for employers with 1-4 employees and $25,000 for employers with 5-14 employees.
"Among the provisions in HB13-1136 that provide safeguards for small businesses: (1) workers must establish intentional discrimination by the employer; (2) a plaintiff worker must exhaust all administrative remedies before going to court; (3) there is a mandatory process of mediation before going to court; (4) only courts and not administrative law judges are empowered to award damages to plaintiffs; (5) courts may award costs and attorney fees to defendant employers for frivolous claims; and (6) courts must consider the size and assets of defendant employers before awarding damages.
"A number of additional safeguards for business were included in the bill at our insistence: As introduced, the bill had no caps on damages. We worked with the sponsors of the legislation to cap damage awards for both punitive and compensatory awards.
"We also worked with the bill's sponsors to raise the legal standard for awarding punitive damages.
"This bill has been criticized because it does not have an explicit cap on attorneys fees. In our survey of states with anti-discrimination laws, only Virginia appears to cap attorneys fees.
"The cap we negotiated on damage awards will act as a brake on excessive attorney fees since it is the usual practice for attorneys to take these cases on a contingency fee basis.
"The effective date of this law is delayed until January 2015, which allows time for a thoughtful outreach and public education campaign involving small employers.
"As passed, we believe HB13-1136 strikes the appropriate balance between protecting small business employers from costly and frivolous litigation and providing the victims of intentional and unacceptable discrimination with appropriate remedies."